Learning to Manage your Comfort Zone

Season 10 of Big Brother, a popular summer show that I have followed since season 2, featured a houseguest over 65. In fact, this gentleman was the oldest to ever play the game.

After the show aired, friends said, “You can do that. You’re a perfect fit.”

However, I was not ready to take risk and give up my life for a reality show. But as time progressed, I pictured myself inside the Big Brother house, playing the game, maybe even (dare I say) “Winning.”

When season 16 approached, I mustered up the courage to apply. Getting out of my comfort zone proved successful since I actually received a phone call.

I didn’t get cast, but being a candidate boosted my confidence, and my determination grew.

Not to mention, friends and former houseguests constantly reminded me that I had what it took to be entertaining on a reality show. Since, I have applied every season since 16 except one and have been a semifinalist multiple times. I realized it’s a 99-1 shot as they just don’t put older folks in the house, and most don’t last too long unless they’re so bad the kids carry them to the end. I haven’t seen the insides of the house yet, but in my mind, I’d love the experience. I’m the best and oldest player to never be cast yet.

And I’m not giving up.

Friends, the support and drive they’ve given me has gotten me outside my comfort zone to get to this point, and that’s the purpose of this story.

Comfort zones…

Has anyone said to you recently, “get out of your comfort zone,” or “you need to get out of the box?” Maybe even, “get off the bench?” 

In my first book, Off the Bench Leadership, I spoke about what getting off the bench looked like and how to achieve it. Get out of your comfort zone. Take action. Succeed.

Congrats! Now, that you’re “off the bench,” I’d like to clarify what this actually entails. In fact, the topic might be my next book. And what might you ask will the book center around? The balance between pushing your limits, getting off the bench, and finding your way back to the bench when necessary.

So what does that mean exactly? 

Recently, I listened to a TedX talk about “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and it hit me: living outside of your comfort zone all the time can bring you to a state of exhaustion, burnout or worse. Yet, everyone feeds you that. Getting Off the Bench is healthy in doses. You need to create a bench to begin with, that place in your mind and world. Your seat in your community. You surround yourself with a support group.

Everyone has a bench they live on. Their habits. Their comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone and choosing to get off the bench is a choice, not a full-time gig. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” One thing, one time. Every. Single. Day.

That, my friends, is getting off the bench. 

I worked with a leader from the west coast at my former company who did everything at 178 miles per hour … always off the bench … always outside their comfort zone. It worried me. While I loved the drive and risk taking, I felt no one could sustain that for a career. Many years later, after I went into my role as a Leader Development Executive, I flew to the west coast to visit this person’s office, finding them sitting in a closed-door office, staring at their laptop in a dark room. Burned out. Too much living outside their comfort zone. Their team had shut them down and this person needed a new career. They soon moved on to a new role, and the story has a happy ending. But that’s for another time.

Living outside their comfort zone got this leader there. If they hadn’t taken the plunge to do that one thing to make their day count, pushing the limits, they wouldn’t have climbed the ladder. However, the lesson learned from their burnout will be the one that will carry them to the top and maintain their success.

It’s all about maintenance. Knowing when to get off the bench, and when to get back on. Balance.

For those of you who have ever watched a reality TV game shows––Big Brother, Survivor, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, etc.––think about this…who flames out? Who goes home, or gets voted off first?

The answer: folks who play too hard, too fast, too often. But those who play in short fast spurts, resting in their comforts, last a long time. They even win, sometimes. I mean, when Big Brother winner Evil Dick wasn’t banging pots and pans in someone’s ear or insulting another, he was holding court in the yard in his comfort zone, building relationships one person at a time. He played in short spurts, but most importantly, he knew where his comfort zone lived.

You thrive in your comfort zone. It’s the temperature you best live at and where you’ll thrive the most. It’s the place you’ll have the most energy. Occasionally, though, you’ll need to push yourself outside of that to be healthy and grow. Getting off the bench drives ideas and breakthroughs you didn’t know were possible.

For me, it’s working out. I love to challenge myself in the gym. I work out so crazy hard and heavy that I exhaust myself to injury. I burnout. How many of us get caught in that cycle? Fad diets, the “January weight loss rush.” Those are huge examples of getting off the bench and getting back on when needed.

It’s a lifestyle. A balance. 

When I found a cadence, one with equal amounts of pushing myself, learning my limits, and knowing when to take a day of rest to recover, I got the best productivity and gains. I go to the gym regularly. But the challenge has changed. By finding a balance, overtime, that comfort zone you struggled to get out, to maintain, will eventually be your new comfort zone. 

You won’t burnout, and your path with move forward, starting a new, improved cycle. The true definition of growth.

The right path to getting off the bench and performing at a higher level is to be intentional about the challenges you take on.

I mention in my book, Off the Bench Leadership to calculate a risk as best you can. If you feel passionately about it, come off the bench and make it happen. BUT don’t give up your bench. That’s where your strength comes from.

Getting out of your comfort zone and off the bench from time to time gives you the jolt you need for new perspectives, ideas and breakthroughs. Your comfort zone is your optimal zone for effectiveness and where you do your best work.

To reiterate: Your new, better comfort zone will emerge over time. 

So how do you get in and out of a comfort zone?

Here are some ideas you can incorporate in your day to day, some ways to expand your comfort zone without going overboard:

1. Everyday do some things differently. Take a different route to work. … Park in different spaces––it’ll drive people crazy but it’s a good way to modify your perspective on things. Change up your routine. For anyone who works out they know what a plateau is. That’s doing the same routine over and over. Eventually you get no results because your body is used to the routine. Same with life!

2. Take your time making decisions. … there’s no rush. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prepare you for life moments where you have to live outside of it. It’s then that you give yourself the best chance at doing something extraordinary. By taking your time with your decisions you can take risks in a controlled fashion and challenge yourself to things you normally wouldn’t do. You can experience what “out of your comfort zone” feels like in a controlled, manageable environment. The new comfort zone emerges with repletion and time.

3. Trust yourself and make snap decisions so you’ll get used to the new norm. “Productive discomfort,” as they call it, will over time be something you become more accustomed to. You’ll be willing to push farther because you know where your optimal anxiety level lives––optimal anxiety is the edge of your comfort zone and the place you’ll perform at your highest level. Breaking through that angst, little by little, will broaden your comfort zone, concur your fears, and make you a better person. It’s then that you can break into new places that you never thought were possible and take advantage of life’s moments to achieve something great.

4. Do it in small steps. With my first crush I didn’t ask her out on a date right away. I got to know her, then took a bold move and not only asked her out but professed how much I liked her in a letter. She rejected me, BUT I took the risk in small steps and over a long period of time, getting to know her and her me. It’s a great story I tell in my keynotes.

So, in summary, you don’t have to live outside your comfort zone all the time. You do need to know how to get there to improve your productivity, effectiveness, and prepare you for life’s memorable moments to do something great. You will expand your perspectives and experiences that you wouldn’t have learned or knew existed.

When your new comfort zone emerges, better than the last one, you’ll stand on the higher bar, ready to push just a little farther. Day by day. A little at a time.

So slow the heck down. Recalibrate your comfort and non-comfort zone meters, trust your judgment and go for it! Do it! Be it!

You never know, you just might end up on a reality TV show…

Lets continue the conversation, at offthebenchleadership.com

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